By Tim Kalinowski
This federal election could be critical in shaping the future of agriculture in Canada, and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture wants to ensure all parties know what is at stake.
“Back in the spring we launched what is called our ‘Producing Prosperity’ campaign,” explains CFA vice-president Chris van den Heuvel, “and it’s really a campaign targeted at the politicians and all the folks running for office to really look at what the benefits are for Canadian agriculture for the entire country, for all Canadians. We’ve got three main pillars under that platform: Food Security, Environmental Stewardship and Economic Growth.”
Food Security is something Canadians clearly expect of agriculture, and the results of the CFA’s own survey of Canadians included in the “Producing Prosperity” plan shows the vast majority of citizens have trust in the system that exists. But van den Heuvel says it’s important that politicians recognize food security requires a strong, central, federal policy to ensure that trust is maintained going forward.
“We’re blessed an endowment here in Canada of lots of land,” van den Heuvel says, “and the ability to produce a tremendous amount of food. One of the key messages, and one of the key things we would like to see, is the development of a national food policy.
“We are looking to the government to mandate some collaboration across the country to bring provinces to the table,” he explains; “and kind of align policies, programs and regulations that affect our food supply. There is a lot of red tape, a lot of regulatory burden and a lot of issues, not just between provinces in moving food moving around, but beyond our own borders and internationally as well.”
Another aspect of a national food policy, says van den Heuvel, should be a greater educational focus so Canadians and federal officials clearly understand how well this system works for everyone’s benefit.
“We would like to see a greater promotion of agricultural awareness and education so the government applies an agricultural lens on all of its policy development,” he confirms. “Canada without a doubt has one of the safest food supplies in the world. And we want to continue growing safe, healthy and nutritious food for all of our citizens.”
The last plank in the wall of a new national food policy, says van den Heuvel, is a heavier focus on maintaining agricultural lands; even as urban development pressures continue to encroach on all sides.
“We have this endowment of land which is entrusted to farmers, and we want to see some co-ordination between the feds and the provinces to come up with some land-use policies to protect that resource for future generations,” he says. “It’s about smart development. It is about looking at your resources, looking at your assets, and saying, ‘Hey, let’s put together a suite of policies that make sense, and that allows development and growth while at the same time not building on our prime agricultural lands.’”
In the second pillar of the CFA’s platform, Environmental Stewardship, farmers have some catching up to do, admits van den Heuvel. With social licence becoming harder and harder to come by on this front, the CFA says federal parties must be willing to help tell the greener story of agriculture and support innovations to continue to address these challenges.
Yes, there is some work to do, reiterates van den Heuvel, but farmers understand better than almost anyone else in Canada what the immediate effects of climate change are. They have shown a willingness to innovate to meet these challenges; an attitude, he says, which should be noted by all parties in the election.
“Agriculture is at the forefront of innovation,” states van den Heuvel, “and we are at the forefront of things such adapting technologies and innovating technologies that help us reduce our greenhouse gas footprint, and help against some of the climate change things that are happening right now. As Canadian farmers, we are really at the forefront of all these bio-technology programs that really can be a benefit for all farmers, and farmers’ bottom lines.”
The final pillar of the CFA’s pitch to all the parties in this election campaign is the obvious success story which is the Economic Growth of the Canadian agri-food industry, says van den Heuvel. By highlighting the obvious benefits of agriculture to the national economy, he says, farmers should be able to feel confident any party which takes the reins of power understands this industry’s superlative importance; even if they struggle at times to implement policies which reflect this understanding.
“Agriculture is one of the strongest sectors in Canada,” he says, “and it is noted as a sector with near the top, if not at the top, of growth potential in Canada. If you look at what we contribute to the economy: $140 billion toward Canada’s GDP. And then when you look at the number of Canadians we employ: About 2.3 million Canadians employed by the agri-food sector across Canada.
“We’re largest private sector employer, and second only to the government in the number of people we employ overall in the country.”
“The goal of our campaign,” he states, “is to help all parties understand that just because they might be from urban ridings that they are not impacted by agriculture— we want them to know nothing could be further from the truth.”
In order to drive this point home more strongly to all parties, van den Heuvel says agriculture must speak with one voice and not let the parties cherry-pick or pit one area of agriculture against another based on one ideology or another. That solidarity is crucial, he says, to ensure all sectors of agriculture are served and benefit equally from federal food policy.
“The CFA is a large organization representing 200,000 farmers across the country in a multitude of commodities,” he states. “We certainly don’t want to pit one sector or choose one industry, or one commodity, over the other. It’s really about coming together and strengthening our voices together; so when we go to these politicians they realize we are, indeed, one sector.
“Some of the policies of some of the parties are more slanted toward one type of production system or another,” van den Heuvel concedes, “but our viewpoint on that is there has to be room for all. There is not one type of system which is an know-all, end-all, be-all— it takes a multitude of systems, and a multitude of production methods to be able to grow food to meet our own needs and those of countries beyond.
“It is really about helping the politicians understand that we have to take a sound, broad, scientific approach to the way we develop our food,” he confirms. “And that we grow, produce and do value-add so we ensure nobody goes hungry in our country.”